The pet I’ll never forget: Humphrey the cat pooed in our slippers - and taught me about love
My family yearned for his affection, but he scorned us. The fact we still adored him became an important lesson.
The cat campaign had been going on for years. My sisters and I didn’t believe we had a hope of winning. Our parents weren’t keen on cats, or dogs, or Scallywag, the sharp-toothed hamster who lived in a cage in the dining room, making occasional bids for freedom and keeping us all in a state of high anxiety.
But things would be different with a cat. We would shower it with love, and wrap a giant pink satin bow around its neck. We’d call it Duchess or Splendour or Fluffy, and treat it like a Girl’s World doll, albeit one made entirely out of hair. We talked about our imaginary cat all the time. This is probably why our parents relented.
However, we suspected we were not going to get the cat of our dreams when Mum told us she had a surprise: “We’re going to meet a farm cat! He’s the runt of the litter, the other cats have been bullying him, and he needs a home. He’s called Humphrey.” Humphrey! He sounded dull. I could picture him clearing his throat, peering over his bifocals, asking the other cats to please keep it down.
Still, he was a victim, and we would love him. All he needed was affection! It did not occur to us that Humphrey might scorn our love.
That he would see six wide-eyed, beaming faces and bolt for the garden. He demonstrated his utter contempt for humanity by pooing in our slippers. Humphrey offered zero return on our emotional investment.
But over the months and years, it became clear that it didn’t matter whether Humphrey loved us or not because we loved him. It was an exhausted, exasperated kind of love – but whenever I heard his soft paws padding and scratching, I felt my heart start to swell.
As my sisters and I muddled through our teen years, needy, insecure, desperate to be loved, we wondered whether we ought to Be More Humphrey. He didn’t roll over, purring and exposing himself to anyone who showed him the slightest scrap of interest. He trusted that love would always exist for him.
He lived a long and unremarkable life, from 1995 to 2014. I miss him still. I would have liked more cuddles and cleaner slippers, but I’m grateful for everything he taught me. Don’t try so hard. You don’t need to constantly hustle for affection and approval. People will love us, whether we like it or not.
(Story source: The Guardian)